(Clockwise from top left): Young participants in Climate March put on gas masks to indicate how polluted the air will become in the future if we don’t take steps now; people coming out of Frere Hall and marching on the Karachi Press Club (bottom) to spread awareness about the factors contributing to climate change, on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / Reuters / White Star
(Clockwise from top left): Young participants in Climate March put on gas masks to indicate how polluted the air will become in the future if we don’t take steps now; people coming out of Frere Hall and marching on the Karachi Press Club (bottom) to spread awareness about the factors contributing to climate change, on Sunday.—Shakil Adil / Reuters / White Star

KARACHI: The Climate March 2023, which saw a large number of individuals, communities and organisations walking from Frere Hall to the Karachi Press Club on Sunday, was all about committed people joining forces to amplify their message and bring attention to the urgent need for doing something for climate change and environmental preservation.

It was not just about holding up placards and chanting slogans, though there was plenty of that as well. The participants in the march tried to raise awareness and inspire action by talking sense and opening eyes. They told you why Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, was also the dirtiest.

“It is because our municipalities cannot deliver clean water or keep air quality clean.

“They are unable to save us from climate disasters such as floods, heavy rainfall, urban floods or heat,” said climate activist and organiser of the Climate March Yasir Husain, aka Darya.

Haphazard construction practices termed harmful to ecology

“The icing on the cake here, on top of municipal failure, shortened lives, ill health and climate disasters, is the destruction imposed on the people by the government’s own development projects. Capitalist gains based on greed have become synonymous with haphazard construction practices, which are harmful to our environment, our ecology and our people,” he said while reminding about Bahria Town which was built by displacing 45 goths.

“The same is the story with the DHA to DHA City corridor called the Malir Expressway, which has also thrown people on the roads. It has displaced women, children and small farmers,” he said, while pointing out that the Malir Expressway had no way of benefiting the people of Malir itself.

“None of the indigenous people of Malir have a say in the construction of the Malir Expressway, work on which should be stopped immediately,” he added.

“We want to see this concrete jungle turn green again. We want our rivers to be clean again and flowing freely instead of them being used for dumping sewerage as is happening with the Lyari and Malir rivers,” he said.

Speaking about the Malir Expressway, Salman Baloch from Malir said that it had destroyed homes, graveyards and rivers. “Malir, Karachi’s food basket is no more, adding to the already acute food security issues here,” he said.

“We used to see so many birds in Malir. There were parrots and cranes. We also used to see so many species of butterflies there. But, sadly, the greedy people could only eye the land there. Farmers were pressured into selling their land,” he said.

“Do you know that there are around 300 bird species that are native to Karachi and of these 250 are found only in Malir? Today, if we don’t raise awareness about the destruction of these habitats through senseless and unnecessary developmental projects, then do understand that we are also part of the ecological system. When the flora and fauna, the green environment and biodiversity are destroyed, we, too, will be destroyed as a result of that. We won’t be able to survive,” he pointed out.

It was also explained as to how the Indus River was dying. “The plastic waste, sewage coupled with industrial waste and short-sighted construction on illegally ‘reclaimed’ coastal areas have devastated the Indus Delta when in fact it should be declared a nature reserve with recognised rights for the indigenous communities,” said Nooruddin Jamali hailing from interior of Sindh.

Arsalan Anjum, representing the Gujjar and Orangi Nullah Affectees, said that they were also hurt by climate change because after the 2020 rains, the nullahs of Gujjar and Orangi were held responsible for urban flooding as they were said to be choked. “But instead of cleaning the nullah, the authorities started demolishing the house around them. As a result some 7,000 families lost the roof over their heads,” he said.

“Issues such as illegal cutting of mangroves and seawater intrusion due to the building of dams, have pushed the fishing and coastal communities towards further poverty,” he added.

Hina Pathani, representing the transgender community, said that no one should interfere with nature. “First clean your hearts and minds before interfering with nature in the name of clean-up operations,” Pathani said.

Hina Baloch, aka Surkhina, also said that the floods of last year displaced the transgender community members, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Some 2,000 homes belonging to the Khawaja sira community in Punjab and KP, 450 in Sindh and five in Balochistan were destroyed in the floods. The poor souls came to Karachi then, but the government is yet to extend help in rehabilitating them. They had to find shelter themselves in slum areas here where the people also wouldn’t accept them easily,” said Surkhina.

Khushal Nagani from Tharparkar spoke about destruction to the environment due to coal mining. “All over the world coal and fossil fuels are becoming history now. But we are after Thar coal, which is hurting the environment of the area while displacing the indigenous people and their animals there to make space for mining and the water reservoir needed for it,” he said.

Leela Ram also from Tharparkar said that there was no environmental assessment happening in his area as coal mining was freely allowed with not one but two power plants were busy polluting the environment.

“But coal and other fossil fuels are history. The world has moved towards renewables such as wind and solar energy. We should also say no more coal,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2023

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